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Scientists have developed antibody test for COVID-19

By Juliano Oliveira

The University of Queensland scientists are obtaining progress in coronavirus proteins produced in a laboratory.

During a blood test, health professionals can use synthetic proteins to reliably screen patient antibodies for prior exposure to COVID-19.

The Public Health Virology team at Forensic and Scientific Services (FSS) and Queensland Health Department are also part of the joint effort to overcome coronavirus.

UQ Protein Expression Facility (PEF) Director Professor Linda Lua praised the high-quality proteins and its significant capability for detecting COVID-19 in Queensland.

“Manufacturing synthetic SARS-CoV-2 viral proteins in Queensland is testament to the technological expertise available in the state,” Professor Lua said.

“PEF was able to respond rapidly as the pandemic emerged because the facility has a track record in producing proteins and is equipped with a range of production capabilities.

“Using these proteins has other significant benefits like reducing biohazard risks from not working with the live virus and having a scalable and consistent production line – especially critical during pandemics.

“As a Queensland-based provider, we can help ensure a degree of supply chain security against testing shortages resulting from issues with international vendors or shipping delays.”

FSS Senior Research Scientist Dr Alyssa Pyke highlighted the effectiveness of an early and rapid response against any disease outbreak.

“We need a holistic approach when dealing with viral outbreaks and protecting the community at large. This means looking for evidence of the virus itself as well as antibodies in patients who may have had the disease,” Dr Pyke said.

“Being able to recover and grow live SARS-CoV-2 meant we could rapidly provide DNA templates of different parts of the virus to PEF, which they then used to manufacture a set of coronavirus proteins.
Over several years, FSS has successfully collaborated with PEF to make diagnostic proteins for Hendra and Zika viruses which can be used in antibody tests.”

By using specialised technology, FSS Senior Serologist Carmel Taylor has become the pioneer in Australia to developed a sophisticated antibody test for coronavirus.

Antibody testing known as serology is based on the potential ability of patient antibodies to bind to viral proteins in much the same way as they bind to virus particles during an infection.

“We are one of only a few laboratories nationally who have a unique serology technology for antibody testing which gives us increased testing sensitivity and turn-around times,” Ms Taylor said.

“By coating the viral proteins onto tiny beads called microspheres, we can test patient blood for specific SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, indicating if they may have had COVID-19.

“As an added advantage, the beads used have individual dye markers so we can quickly test a single patient sample against several parts of the virus or a number of different viruses at the same time.”

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